If opening doors and moving over thresholds is becoming difficult for your relative, there are various ways you can help. There are also things you can do to ensure your relative feels safe and secure in his or her home.

On this page you can find examples of what you can do to help improve safety and security in your relative's home.

1. Grab rails
2. Locks, keys and handle
3. Answering the door
4. Feeling safe

Installing grab rails

A good option is to fit short vertical grab rails both inside and outside the door, so your relative has support when entering and leaving the home. Grab rails come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, so discuss your relative’s preferences with them – you might want to take the design of the building or doorway into consideration, too. For someone with reduced eyesight, a grab rail contrasting in colour with the wall or door will be easier to see. 

As a general rule, position the grab rail on the side of your relative’s strongest hand, unless they use a walking aid, in which case it would be better to put the rail on the opposite side. In that way, your relative can still keep hold of the walking aid.

The grab rail should be installed at a height convenient to use – and if there is a step outside the door, the position of the grab rail should take this into account (your relative will need to use the grab rail both when they are standing on the step, and when they move between the step and the lower ground). Take care that it doesn’t restrict access to any key holes. 

If you think that grab rails won’t be a sufficient support for your relative, consider changing the door frame to one with a lower threshold. Note that grab rails can’t be fitted to PVC doorframes.

Making locks, keys and handles easier to turn

There are many products available to help with locking and unlocking doors if your relative is beginning to lose strength or dexterity in their fingers, or is suffering from reduced visibility or hand-eye coordination. Some of these include:

  • Key turners: these are plastic handles designed to attach to a key (or sometimes several keys) at one end. Look for one that fits comfortably in your relative’s hand, perhaps with a textured surface to give better grip; and for space for the key to fold into the handle when not in use.
  • Rubber lock and/or handle covers: if the problem is with turning a lock on the inside of a door – for example, with a Yale lock that has a knob to be turned – use a rubber cover, fitting over the top of the knob to provide a better grip.
  • Remote locking: today’s technology means that a traditional key-and-keyhole is not the only option for locking and unlocking doors. It is now possible to have remote locking for your home (similar to a car's central locking), although this is not necessarily a cheap solution.
  • Larger handles: consider changing the handles so they are larger and easier to grip.
  • Consider painting the door a colour that contrasts strongly with the keyhole. A matte finish works best as light can glare off gloss surfaces.

Answering the door

If your relative is insufficiently mobile or unable to get up quickly enough to answer the door, they may want to give a copy of the main door key(s) to trusted regular visitors such as family and friends. Another solution is to install an outdoor key safe on a wall by the door: these are secure boxes, holding one or more keys and requiring a code to open.

For someone who doesn’t always hear the doorbell, there are several options. Choose from doorbells designed to be extra-loud (or have optional high-volume settings) or which have flashing lights. There are also wireless doorbells that link to a vibrating pager, which your relative can keep in their pocket. See the Action on Hearing Loss online shop for more information on these products plus other hearing-related items.

Feeling safe

Few things are more important than being – and feeling – safe in our own home. For this reason, many older people like to have a safety chain on the inside of the door. Modern variants of the safety chain now come with an external key-operated release. The purpose of this is to allow the internal chain to be released (unlocked) in an emergency, for example by a relative or other trusted key-holder.

Another good option is an intercom system, using a phone, camera, or both. An intercom will allow your relative to know who is at the door before choosing whether or not to open it. Some systems can also be set up with a control to remotely unlock the door. This may be particularly useful for an older person with reduced mobility, as they won’t need to move to the door to let in a welcome visitor.

More information

Page last reviewed: March 2015
Next review due: November 2016